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Environmental protection

Minimizing negative environmental impacts and taking meaningful climate action require a holistic approach while also constantly monitoring practices and performance. Our goal is to decouple business growth from negative environmental impacts wherever possible. Our production sites are located in established industrial and commercial zones. Before acquiring a company – and thus its facilities – we first conduct an environmental risk assessment.

Roles and responsibilities

The Chair of the Executive Board and CEO of our company is responsible for environmental protection, which also covers climate action, water management, waste and recycling, air emissions, biodiversity, and plant and process safety. Her duties include approving overarching Group-wide guidelines such as our Environment, Health and Safety (EHS) Policy. Furthermore, our Sustainability Board (MSB) monitors the Group-wide implementation of environmental protection goals.

The Group function Corporate Sustainability, Quality and Trade Compliance (SQ) is responsible for steering all the related measures globally. SQ senior leadership approves operational standards and regularly reports on environmental protection to our Sustainability Board. Every year, SQ prepares a comprehensive environment, health and safety report covering topics such as climate action, water management and waste and recycling as well as plant and process safety. Our Sustainability Board uses this report to steer the strategic direction and provide verification for our ISO 14001 and ISO 45001 certifications.

Across our business sectors, the Operations Leadership Committee (OLC) makes strategic decisions on issues pertaining to emissions, energy, water, and waste. This body comprises representatives from Life Science, Healthcare and Electronics as well as SQ. Decisions made by the OLC and any resulting actions are implemented by the respective business sector. Once per quarter, the OLC members update their leaders on matters relating to environmental protection and this information, if relevant, is then shared with the MSB.

Our commitment: Standards and standard operating procedure

Our approach to environmental management is founded on our Group EHS (Environment, Health and Safety) Policy, which has been approved by our Executive Board. Aligned with the requirements of the chemical industry’s Responsible Care® Global Charter and the ISO 14001 environmental management standard, this policy underscores our leaders’ responsibility for environmental protection and health and safety. It is also aimed at our suppliers, calling on them to likewise adopt high environmental sustainability and safety standards. Our EHS policy thus complements the Supplier Code of Conduct of our Group Procurement function. Through our Contractor EHS Management Standard, we aim to ensure that our contract partners also take environment, health and safety aspects into account.

Material investments in environmental impact mitigation

Efforts to prevent and monitor air, water and soil emissions entail significant expense on our part, as does proper waste disposal. Moreover, we set up provisions for groundwater and soil remediation to ensure that we can execute all the necessary measures. As of December 31, 2022, our provisions for environmental protection totaled € 149 million (2022: € 148 million), 96% (2022: 94%) of which was attributable to Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. For details see Notes to the Consolidated Financial Statements under (27) “Other provisions”.

Assessing environmental impacts

As a matter of principle, we conduct risk-based assessments along with audits of all our production facilities every three years with the goal of analyzing and minimizing our environmental footprint. Conducted by SQ, these assessments serve to ensure that our requirements are being met, with appropriate corrective measures being implemented as needed. In our Group EHS audits, we assess our sites’ performance on a five-tier scale (“excellent”, “good”, “fair”, “poor”, and “critical”), which in turn determines how frequently audits are conducted. If the findings are deemed to be good, we audit the facility less often, while incompliances can increase the frequency. In 2023, we commissioned a total of 34 audits (2022: 41), one of them “excellent”, 23 of them “good” and 10 of them “fair”.

Reporting incidents and violations

To review critical situations, near misses and environmental incidents as quickly as possible and take countermeasures, we have a set of reporting procedures in place that allow us to track the respective incident, its degree of severity and all risk mitigation efforts. We record all incidents Group-wide and report them to the Executive Board annually.

In the event of a major occurrence, our digital Rapid Incident Report System (RIRS) promptly notifies the SQ and Group Communications functions, which, if necessary, inform the Executive Board. Major incidents could include fatalities, accidents with multiple casualties, incidents that impact neighboring communities, or natural disasters such as earthquakes and flooding. Through the RIRS, we can quickly coordinate with all those involved and inform the other sites immediately of the respective event. In addition, employees as well as external stakeholders can report any violations of our standards to Group Compliance.

In 2023, we recorded no (2022: two) significant incident-related releases of substances.

ISO 14001:2015 Group certificate

Since 2009, our company has held an ISO 14001 Group certificate that requires all production sites with more than 50 employees to implement an environmental management system with predefined indicators such as greenhouse gas emissions and water consumption. Other facilities are not obligated to undergo certification. The annual internal audit reports and management reviews carried out under the Group certificate give us a better overview of how all our sites are performing. As in the previous year, 95 of our sites worldwide were covered by the ISO 14001 certificate in 2023.

Annual external audits are used to monitor our certifications. As part of a defined sample procedure for the Group certificate, a total of 34 sites were externally audited in 2023, with all audited facilities passing (2022: 12). In addition to external inspections, internal audits serve to ensure Group-wide compliance with our requirements.

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